Pairing the New England Clambake

As a lifetime New Englander, I basically grew up on everything you’d find at a traditional clam bake: a variety of steamed quahogs and littlenecks, mussels, boiled lobster, crab legs, corn on the cob drenched in melted butter, boiled red potatoes, clam chowder, potato, macaroni, and green salads… the list goes on and on. To me, this is the epitome of summertime dining in New England. Little did I know as a child, this culinary tradition would only get better once I was an adult and had a knowledge of wine to add even more enjoyment.

Let’s Talk Wine Pairing

Clams (quahogs, littlenecks, cherrystones) and mussels are absolutely delicious steamed and dipped in melted butter. Often times I’ll grab an oaked, buttery Chardonnay (such as DeLoach Private Collection Chalk Hill) for that melt-in-your-mouth experience, or I’ll grab a zesty and lively Sauvignon Blanc (such as Riversong Sauvignon Blanc), with a bit more crispness and acidity than a Chard. It’s really a matter of my particular mood and preference that day, but either one provides a home run pairing that is sure to please.

I recently posted an entire blog for Lobster Day, highlighting various lobster dishes and my favorite varietals. There are so many delicious choices for perfect pairing, although my absolute favorite is a dry sparkling wine, particularly Cremant de Loire (such as Abbesse Cremant de Loire), which provides the perfect note of salinity to compliment shellfish.

King crab legs are one of my faves, although a bit interactive. When I don’t mind getting my hands dirty and working for my food, I grab my nut and seafood cracker and get to crackin’ those spiny bad boys. Next to my plate of crab legs and pool of melted butter is a perfectly chilled glass of dry Riesling from Alsace, France, or a fruit forward, fuller bodied Pinot Gris (such as Hillersden Pinot Gris from Marlborough, New Zealand).

Clam chowder all year long… comfort food in the winter, beachy goodness in the summer. My suggested wine pairing is equally as versatile. Two of my favorites, Bees Knees Chenin Blanc/Viognier and Lobster Shack Chardonnay/Viognier, both from South Africa offer a beautiful balance of refreshing fruit and lively acidity with a weightier mouthfeel appropriate for both summertime and wintertime dining.

The Sides

Corn-on-the-cob, boiled potatoes, salads of all sorts. Every wine mentioned above would pair beautifully with all of these sides. Have fun with the experimenting! No clam bake would be complete without a rosé , and I am absolutely digging Paris Street Rose from Romania. A few more notable suggested wines would include The Arch Pinot Noir, for all you die hard red wine lovers, and Sonnenstrahl Grüner Veltliner from Austria. Happy pairing!

Join Our Clambake and Wine Pairing

None of the work, all of the fun! Enjoy the cuisine of Chef J. Rex poolside at Lantera Boston Landing on Wednesday, July 31st at 6:30pm as I guide you through the perfect wine pairings with each course!
Click here for tickets and more information or find our event on Facebook

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

National Cheese Day

June 4th is National Cheese Day! Cheese boards are a staple of my home entertaining. There is nothing simpler, yet delicious and enthusiastically received by my guests than a variety of cheeses to pair with whichever wines we will be sipping on. Cheese boards can be inexpensive with easy to find, traditional cheeses most Americans are familiar with, or they can be an eclectic spread of costly gourmet cheeses from all over the world. I often enjoy having one or two gourmet cheeses that are new or unique to my crowd of guests, accompanied by several common “ol’ standby” cheeses to offer a little something for everyone. In honor of National Cheese Day, I offer you seven simple, easy to find cheeses and my favorite varietals to pair with them perfectly.

  • Herbed goat cheese with Sauvignon Blanc
  • Delice de Bourgogne with Chardonnay
  • Gruyere with Gewurztraminer
  • Feta or Gorgonzola with dry rosé
  • Buffalo mozzarella with Sangiovese
  • Smoked Gouda with Syrah/Shriaz
  • Horseradish cheddar with Cabernet Sauvignon

Want to learn more? Join us at one of our VINOIsLife public wine and cheese pairing experiences in the greater Boston/MetroWest areas! Click here for our experience schedule.

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

Wine and Chocolate For Valentine’s Day

Originally published in South Shore Senior News, February 2019 Edition

Wine and chocolate, a match made in heaven in this wine lover’s opinion. I tell my students, when in doubt, grab a bag of dark chocolate and a bottle of tannic red wine, and you will have an evening of deliciously paired bliss. There is so much to explore in the world of chocolate and wine. Valentine’s Day is upon us, and what better time than to take our taste buds on a sweet adventure?

White chocolate and Pinot Noir is probably the most surprising and delicious chocolate and wine pairing I’ve ever experienced. Pour yourself a glass of Pinot Noir, then put a square of quality white chocolate on your tongue and savor. While the chocolate is melting, raise the glass to your nose and breathe in the aromas of the wine. You will start to taste an incredible vanilla flavor that wasn’t noticeable before. Once you’ve enjoyed this sensation, take a sip of the wine, coating the white chocolate as it continues to melt, and enjoy pure bliss.

Old vine Zinfandels are some of my favorite wines, and I’m absolutely obsessed with pairing them with dark chocolate raspberry, such as Ghirardelli dark chocolate raspberry squares. Zinfandels are so jammy and fruit forward that these chocolate squares will turn that wine into liquid raspberry on the palate in the most heavenly of ways.

Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have undertones of eucalyptus or mint, which makes these hefty reds the ideal partner for chocolate mint. You can go beyond dark chocolate mint candies and pair them with Mint Milanos, Thin Mint cookies, or even grasshoppers.

I enjoy the flavor of coffee in pretty much anything, and chocolate is no exception. You will bring out a delicious earthy, mocha note when pairing red wine with dark chocolate covered espresso or coffee beans. Earthier varietals like Cabernet Franc and Pinotage will truly impress with this delightful pairing.

A fun and unusual combination I have grown to love is dark chocolate chili, which provides a nice spicy kick. Enjoy this with a nice Syrah/Shiraz, and watch the fruit and spice dance happily on the palate, switching off who takes the lead.

What about white wines? These can be a bit tricky, especially the drier ones, as too much sugar will amplify the acid, resulting in an unpleasant bitter taste. I have found the heavier bodied oakier whites, such as Chardonnay, pair wonderfully with creamy white chocolate, or even milk chocolate covered nuts or turtles. Try an off-dry white, such as a Riesling, or a sweeter white, such as a Moscato, with milk chocolate caramels with sea salt.

Want to explore a little outside the box? Try chocolate covered bacon for a new and exciting twist. This gives you the best of the wine pairing world: salt and fat blanketed in decadent chocolate. You could even drizzle chocolate on some salty kettle chips for a similar effect.

When it comes to wine and chocolate pairing, the best part is the “research”! 

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

SSSNFebruary2019

Snowed In With Mulled Wine

Originally published in the South Shore Senior News, January 2019

I have always been a fan of wine cocktails, whether a morning mimosa or bellini with brunch, sangria in the summer, and especially mulled wine. Also known as glögg, Glühwein, and many other names I cannot pronounce, mulled wine is a wine beverage served hot or warm, particularly in the colder winter months. It is typically made with red wine and various baking spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, ginger, cloves and dried orange peel with the addition of some sort of spirit, most commonly brandy or vodka. Born and raised in New England, I have experienced my share of Nor’easters and blizzards, and nothing makes me feel cozier than watching the snow fall from the comfort of my living room while cozied up fireside with a mug of nice hot mulled wine.

Not only is mulled wine incredibly simple to make, the house smells incredible from the simmering baking spices. By keeping a few simple ingredients on hand, you can be prepared to whip up this comforting recipe in a pinch. I also find this fun to make for cocktail parties, get-togethers, the random “pop-in” visitor, and especially as a dessert beverage after dinner parties. Mulled wine can be made stovetop or in a slow cooker, whichever you prefer.

You can find hundreds of different recipes for mulled wine on the internet, but I have my own personal favorite that is simple, inexpensive, and delicious. You can certainly buy your own personal favorite combination of spices separately, but I choose to purchase a pre-mixed combination of mulling spices from Atlantic Spice Co. in North Truro, MA (https://www.atlanticspice.com/), which contains cinnamon chips, orange peel, allspice, and cloves, as the base of my spice mix. I purchase small muslin bags to contain the spices while simmering for easy removal; however, you can choose to add the spices to the simmering pot on their own, then simply strain them when it is time to serve.

Missa’s Mulled Wine
– 1 (750 mL) bottle of the red wine of your choice
– 1 muslin bag (or cheesecloth pouch) containing 2 Tbsp of Atlantic Spice Co’s mulling spice mix
– ¼ cup brandy or vodka (or your favorite liqueur)
– 2–4 Tbsp of sugar, maple syrup, or honey (or your desired sweetener) to taste
– optional garnishes: orange slice, cinnamon stick, star anise

Steep mulling spices and wine for 30-60 minutes on the stovetop or in a slow cooker on low just to a simmer. Do not boil, making sure to keep the wine under 160 degrees. If no pouch or bag is used, strain the wine into a mug, top with desired garnishes, and serve hot.

This can be made in a non-alcoholic version, as well. Simply simmer the spices stovetop or in a crock pot with a gallon of cider or juice and omit the wine and liqueur.

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

Article in South Shore Senior News

A Cookie Swap Wine Tasting

Today is National Cookie Day! Yes, there’s truly a day for everything. Although if there was the perfect time to have a designated cookie day, this time of year is definitely it. Over the past several years, I have conducted several cookie swap themed in-home wine tasting events, and this year was no exception.

My fabulous host and multi-time in-home tasting attendee Ameera hosted a cookie swap tasting in celebration of her 30th birthday. The great thing about a cookie swap (besides the obvious) is that every guest gets to contribute and bring their favorite cookies to share. As the Wine Educator, I choose which wines I will bring to the tasting based upon the cookies everyone has offered to bake and bring.

cookieswap01

It’s certainly fun to apply my pairing knowledge and predict what I know (or at least am fairly certain) will be a great match, which cookies will be delicious with which wines, but it’s even more fun to see my dozen or more wine loving guests experiment with the flavors and come up with new and unpredictable pairings. We pleasantly found the following are fabulous together:

Oatmeal cookies with coconut with Chardonnay.
Gingerbread cookies with Viognier.
Caramel Apple Pie cookies with both Viognier and Chardonnay.
Dark chocolate raspberry cookies with Zinfandel (probably my all time fave!)
Peanut butter blossoms with Chardonnay and Zinfandel.
Dark chocolate peppermint with Malbec (this also pairs amazingly with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah).
Chocolate chip cookies with pretty much any red wine, both dry and sweet.

In previous cookie swap events, I have been been able to determine some general rules when it comes to pairing wine and cookies. That being said, when it comes to wine, there never seems to be one final answer, and all rules are meant to be broken. For instance, I assumed snickerdoodles would be much too sweet and sugary to pair well with an oaked Chardonnay, but much to my surprise, it was a delightful pairing. Generally speaking, the sweeter the cookie, the sweeter the wine. Sugar cookies and frosted cookies should pair nicely with semi sweet and sweet wines. Chocolate cookies with red wines is another almost sure bet. Lemon cookies, if not heavily glazed and not too sweet, seem to pair lovely with off dry and drier whites, especially those whites with citrus and/or lemon notes.

I was asked to create the pairing suggestions for your cookie swaps based upon wine category. You will find this fantastic chart designed by our design team below. But remember… rules are meant to be broken, and you might find additional matches that you find simply delicious. Happy pairing!

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

The Wine Lab – North Andover, MA

Scrolling through Facebook one day, I saw that a new wine bar had opened up in North Andover, which is about an hour north of me and a town I drive through all the time when I commute to work at the Traveling Vineyard corporate office. It looked like a pretty cool concept… an urban style winery that sources grapes from various places, then vinifies and bottles under their own name, The Wine Lab. I was really excited to check it out, so one beautiful fall afternoon this past weekend I took a ride up to North Andover, met up with a great friend, and got to see what The Wine Lab is all about.

The Wine Lab is located in a beautiful historic mill building that appears to be a thriving spot for local businesses. It’s a gorgeous rustic-meets-modern space with high ceilings and a large bar in the center, surrounded by many high top tables, and a cozy living room-like space with leather chairs and coffee tables. Immediately upon entering, I knew this was a place I could see myself spending many an evening with great friends.

But What About The Wine?

IMG_3045

I decided to order one of the wine flights on the menu called the Devil Flight. This flight consisted of three reds, then your choice of whichever wine you wanted for the fourth. I chose the Chardonnay as my fourth wine, and the three reds that came in the flight were a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Malbec. They arrived in little test tubes, a quirky and fun way to present a flight in a place that calls itself a lab, accompanied by a large empty glass for tasting. Love the creative presentation!

IMG_3043

They served them in what I thought was a strange order to serve wine in: Cab Sauv, Pinot Noir, Malbec, then Chardonnay. Naturally, I tasted them in what I believe to be a more proper order and began with the Chardonnay.

Summer Day Chardonnay was a nice basic Chardonnay. No signs of significant oak, a medium weight with good acidity. The grapes are sourced from California, and the winemaking didn’t seem to be anything special. A decent, crisp white wine that would pair lovely with a variety of foods and satisfy most white wine drinkers.

I then poured the Red Dragon Pinot Noir into my glass. These grapes are sourced from Lodi, CA and displayed a bright ruby red in the glass. The texture was super smooth with very light tannins, and this wine showed a bit of tart fruit, including cranberry, pomegranate, dried strawberry, and red raspberry. It was a bit more floral than I would expect from a Pinot Noir, and more fruity than earthy or rustic. It was a nice easy drinker that would pair with a variety of lighter foods.

Next, I tried the She Drank It All Cabernet Sauvignon, also sourced from Lodi, CA. The color was almost identical to the Pinot Noir, which I found peculiar, but the flavor and texture was even more odd. Dare I say, this Cab was even lighter in flavor and body than the Pinot Noir. I’m not sure how that can even happen, especially grown in an AVA such as Lodi where you would expect much more deep fruit and heavier tannins. This wine was incredibly floral, something else I wouldn’t expect from a Cab. This showed extremely light fruit, very light tannin, little to no oak, and notes of red plum. Missing was any herbal or eucalyptus notes I’d expect from a Cab, and certainly no deep, dark fruits. It was interesting, to say the least.

Finally, I tried the Smooth Criminal Malbec, also sourced from Lodi, CA. This was my favorite of the flight. The most tannic and structured of the reds, it was still quite smooth and soft. This had deeper fruit, although still more red fruit notes than black fruit, and almost had a bubble gum character to it you’d find in a wine that has undergone carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration.

Light Bites

We decided to split a couple of light bites, so we ordered the Antipasto Skewers and the Deconstructed Beets and Buratta. These plates were fantastic! I ordered a glass of Smooth Criminal Malbec to sip on while we snacked, and it was a perfect compliment to both appetizers.

The Wine Lab is a fabulous place to visit, and I hope it thrives for years to come. The atmosphere is welcoming and spacious, the service is top notch, and the food is incredible. I personally found the wine to be average, but certainly enjoyable. I will most definitely return in the future to enjoy more Malbec and experience more options on their menu.

Tour de France – French Wine Review

Within this past year, I became a Certified French Wine Scholar with the Wine Scholar Guild. I have always had an enormous appreciation for French viticulture and viniculture, so being able to immerse myself in studying these topics intensely was a dream come true. As much love as I had prior to my certification course, my passion for French wine has increased exponentially, and it was a thrilling ride to be able to curate and review the French wine selections for Boston Wine School‘s September 2018 Flash Sale. This tour of France is a wonderful and exciting way to understand and taste terroir in your glass, seeing the differences and nuances of various popular French wine regions, and even the differences between sub-regions!

Each of these wines are what I consider to be “food wines”. The French have mastered the art of food and wine pairing for daily enjoyment. I urge you to decant your bottle of choice and let it breathe while you prepare a delicious meal, or perhaps even a charcuterie board of meat, cheeses, nuts, olives, and dark chocolate. By the end of your food preparation, your wine should be ready to be thoroughly enjoyed as a condiment to your food of choice. Cheers!
01Benedictus02RochMillon03LePreduMoine04ChateauColombe05ChateauLaLoubiere06LeGrandChaiMedoc07JeanPierreMoueix08VieuxChateauGibeau09LeGrandChaiMontagne10DomaineMartinRasteau11LePrincedeCourthezon12GrandeReservedeGassacRouge

A Dog and Wine Adventure in Vermont

It has been a bucket list thing of mine to visit Vermont in October, which is kind of insane, seeing how I live in Massachusetts only a couple of hours away. I regularly visit every other New England state, but for some reason I’ve never made the effort to visit Vermont, particularly in autumn, which is my absolute favorite season. This summer I decided no more putting off until tomorrow what I can do today. Life is happening now! So I decided to do a little online research and book a short 2 day trip for my dog Peyton and myself. This would be the first of many “mommy-doggy” trips to come.

IMG_2801

Time To Hit The Road

Peyton and I took a stunningly beautiful drive from Worcester, MA heading north, through Keene, NH and northwest to West Rutland, VT. The foliage wasn’t quite at peak yet, but it was still simply breathtaking. I’ve never quite seen mountains splashed with such vibrant colors before. It was the type of drive you take when you realize life is so much bigger than what we experience in our daily routines. Seeing the mountain ranges, the farms in the valleys, the fog sitting atop the mountaintops just enough to hide them, it was something everyone should experience.

Dog Friendly Vermont

We arrived in West Rutland, VT and checked in at the Paws House Inn, which is a dog-friendly bed and breakfast. They’re so dog friendly, in fact, that they charge an extra fee if you don’t check in with a dog! We were warmly welcomed by the manager Stephanie, and Peyton made herself right at home.

IMG_2800

We got settled into our room and went for a refreshing hike at Pine Hill Park, where Peyton was greeted by a tin man. She decided to return the greeting by barking at him as if he didn’t belong there, which in all honestly, I can’t figure out why a tin man would be in the woods either. But I digress. We enjoyed a lovely hour-long hike through the trails to kick off our weekend of relaxation.

IMG_2802

Once we got back to the inn I decided against going out to dinner at one of the many dog friendly restaurants in the area and instead decided to open a bottle of California red (a Boston Wine School selection) and simply relax, taking in the crisp air, the solitude, and most of all, the quiet. We relaxed on the back deck until it got too cool to remain outside, then finished the bottle of wine inside in the cozy living room. The day and evening were perfection. No one around except the two of us, simply enjoying the quiet and each other’s company.

 

The Adventure Continues

The next morning we awoke to the sun shining brightly and very cool fall-like air, so we went back to Pine Hill Park for another quick hike. No barking at the tin man this time, apparently Peyton had made her point the day before. We returned to the inn to check out and get ready for our day of wine adventures ahead of us. This inn was so adorable and charming, I truly recommend it to anyone wanting a dog friendly getaway. Peyton and I will most definitely be returning, perhaps next time for more than one night.

IMG_2805

Whaleback Vineyard & Winery

Peyton and I hopped in the car and headed to Poultney, VT where we would visit Whaleback Vineyard and Winery. Truly in the middle of nowhere and on the New York border, this property was the epitome of family farm vineyard. When we arrived, there was a note on the door with a phone number to call, since they were out among the vines harvesting grapes. I called and a very friendly gentleman answered and came right up to the tasting room with a warm welcome. Peyton and I walked inside, where we were greeted with old farm charm. It was a large room with a table and chairs, all of their wines, and a bunch of tasting glasses. The gentleman (and owner) sat down with me, pouring me a sample of each of their wines, explained their growing and vinification process, and answered all of my many, many questions. Their flight was split 50/50 with fruit wines and North American grape wines. Not being well versed in fruit wines, I was very interested in the winemaking process, and I have to say, although fruit wines aren’t typically my thing, I enjoyed the wild apple wine so much that I purchased a bottle to bring home. I think this will make a lovely gift and really represents that local Vermont charm.

 

Peyton and I got back in the car and headed south to Jacksonville, VT. This drive was so beautiful. We weaved between mountains, farms in the valleys, rushing rivers next to the roads, splashes of cherry, burnt crimson, and pumpkin orange in the trees on the hillsides. I could have driven this route for days and still have been amazed. My favorite part of driving through the roads of Vermont was when I passed through the village centers of town. They all looked like scenes from a Hallmark movie! My mom and I always ask each other, “where do small village-like towns like those in Hallmark movies exist?” Well now I know… in Vermont! Says the city girl.

IMG_2812

Honora Winery

After almost two hours in the car, Peyton and I arrived at Honora Winery Tasting Room in Jacksonville, VT. We got out of the car and immediately heard the rushing water of a small river or large brook right out front. There was a gazebo, several picnic tables, and a pond in the back. I knew immediately we would be staying for a glass of wine and a snack after our tasting.

IMG_2808

We were warmly greeted by Stephanie, whose family owns the winery. I was able to choose 4 out of their six wines, so I chose the driest white (Chardonnay) and the three reds (Syrah, Alicante, and Petite Sirah), all of which are made from fruit sourced from Central, CA. These wines were simply fabulous. Of course they were, they’re made from California fruit! Honora does a wonderful job at vinifying this fruit, and their tasting room is so inviting I could have stayed there all day. Instead, I decided to purchase a bottle of the Petite Sirah to take home, and a glass of Alicante and a cheese plate to enjoy outside in the gazebo. Nothing says lunch like cheese and wine (and it’s keto friendly)!

IMG_2810

I am so in love with the Jacksonville, VT Honora Winery Tasting Room (there are 2 locations), that I truly can not wait to go back. The wine and cheese were so delicious, and the grounds were as New England village-like as it gets. Some time soon I will book a room at a local bed and breakfast and spend the entire day here enjoying several glasses and a picnic with some close friends. New England charm and California sourced wines, that is heaven in my book!

IMG_2809

At this point it was mid afternoon, and we had one more winery to visit on our way back home to Worcester, MA. We got back in the car for an hour and headed south. We crossed into Western Massachusetts where we entered the town of Colrain. You’d think a bordering town would be identical to the town we just left, but I noticed an immediate difference. The winding roads through the mountains were no more. It was hilly, yes, but the mountains splashed with vibrant colors were no more. Goodbye, Vermont! It was wonderful to meet you!

Mineral Hills Winery at Godard’s Red Hen Farm

Our last stop was at Mineral Hills Winery at Godard’s Red Hen Farm. I was somewhat familiar with this winery, as we had shared a booth at The Big E (Eastern States Exposition) state fair a couple of years ago when I was pouring wine samples for Hardwick Vineyard & Winery (for whom I still work). Sadly, I had yet to visit their tasting room or even try their wines! I was pleasantly surprised once I finally did.

IMG_2811

Much of their grapes are also sourced from California, which was exciting for me to try. I tried two Cabernet Sauvignons, one a 2015 and the other 2017. They were both fantastic, but the 2015 had aged beautifully in the bottle and wanted to be enjoyed now. I walked out with a bottle of the 2015 Cab and called it a day, or more accurately, a memorable adventure.

Life Is Happening NOW!

If you take anything from this account of my adventure, I hope it is this: life is happening NOW. Not tomorrow, not in 5 years, not once your kids are out of school, not once you find a significant other, but right now. You do not need the “perfect time” to cross something off your bucket list. Every day is the perfect time. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, and it is up to us to truly live our best lives every day. You don’t need to wait for others to accompany you in an adventure. You are perfectly capable of exploring the world yourself, meeting new people, and especially enjoying your own company. The relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have. Nurture that relationship, honor it, and truly enjoy it. You will never regret doing the things you’ve always wanted to do but have put off time and time again. Give yourself that gift. You deserve it.